Renovating. For some, this word brings up a plethora of horror stories; budgets blown out, relationships put to the test, or a house that is unlivable for way longer than expected.  

However, for others, taking on a fixer-upper, either to live in or renovate, is an exciting process. Restoring a house to its former glory and beyond can change lives, transforming not only the physical space but the way occupants feel inside, how they interact with each other and the way they move seamlessly through their day. Renovations add value to a house, but – importantly – offer families wishing to stay in their communities a chance to evolve their living space as children grow up and needs change. 

 This is why Sebastian Sevallo and Mickey Fabbiano, hosts of HGTV Canada’s Worst to First, love the construction industry.  

“I love standing in a space and imagining/ designing the possibilities and then making them happen. I’m addicted to the transformation, not just in a way the space looks but also in how it feels. It can change lives” Sebastian said. 

And for Mickey, the passion he has for his job extends way back to childhood; “Since I was a kid, I’ve been around and involved with construction. Going back as far as my family tree can reach, I come from a long line of carpenters and trades people,” Mickey said.  

“From when I was a kid, I would hear my parents talk about the market, the trends and projections of where it is going. I always got excited to check out a building or lot, hear my mom and dad talk about the potential it has, weighing out the pros and cons and seeing that transformation come to life.” 

The duo has kindly shared their tips for would be renovators to ensure their dream becomes reality – not another horror story.  

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN YOUR PROPERTY SEARCH  

Both agree that deciding to renovate or not comes down to weighing up the pros and cons. One of the major cost and timeline blowouts to renovating is unplanned repairs to foundations, structure and roofing.  

“Having a house that has a strong foundation, good square footage, and a solid structure are key elements to a good fixer-upper. When you know that you won’t have to invest big bucks into major repairs, then more money is left over for design elements and creature comforts,” Sebastian said. 

Where possible, ask for a house plan but don’t rely on it to tell you the whole truth. Look for signs the house was well-maintained, check for rot and ask questions about any previous renovations that may have been done.  

You also need to think about the numbers, especially for a house you are planning to sell.  

“If I’m looking to buy a house to flip, I’m going to look into the work I need to do to the house, plus what I paid for the lot, as well as see where the market is and where we think it might be going when we are done. If the numbers make sense, then the reno makes sense,” Mickey said. 

Finding a house to live in isn’t quite as straightforward as the facts and figures because emotion also comes into play. Here, it is more about what you are willing to do, or sacrifice, in order to create your dream home.  

“For example, if you find a house in a neighbourhood you just love or a lot that backs up to the ocean, but the foundation is jeopardised, then the choice comes down to how much that neighbourhood or ocean view means to you, because you can’t reno a view. If you decide to go ahead, know that you might have to spend half your budget to fix that one problem,” Mickey said. 

P L A N N I N G  A  H O U S E  R E N O V A T I O N ? 

Sebastian and Mickey advise all renovators to plan extensively before grabbing the sledgehammer and sinking dollars into new fixtures. Once work has started, unplanned changes can be costly, plus you need to know how long the renovations are expected to take so you can either sell or move in accordingly. 

Do your homework and ensure you are on top of issues such as getting plans drawn up, permits are in place, and you have a realistic budget to adhere to. It also pays to think ahead to any potential problems that may pop up along the way, such as inclement weather or delays with deliveries.  

Don’t feel that you have to do it all yourself either; “Remember, if you don’t know – ask. Hire professionals to help you avoid stress and unneeded cost,” Mickey advises.  

WHAT TYPES OF CHANGES SHOULD YOU MAKE TO A HOUSE? 

  1. Removing walls  

The most frequently requested change Sebastian and Mickey see is opening up spaces.  

“It’s no secret everyone seems to want open concept these days; tearing down physical walls seem to help people break down mental walls in their life,” Mickey said.  

Sebastian agrees; “Biggest bang for the buck is opening up walls, creating space and flow where there was none before.”  

  1. Kitchen renovations  

The kitchen is the prime area to make changes to a house, as it often serves as the hub to the home, it’s where people begin their day and serves as a central meeting point for occupants and guests alike. It is also a great space to make simple but very effective changes that can change the feel (and value) of the house with low cost and time commitment.  

Firstly, consider the layout to the kitchen. “When people look at a house, and in particular a kitchen, they look to see how it will work for them and if it is the right fit for their lifestyle or daily routine. Creating a layout that flows from space to space and is more versatile doesn’t just make better use of the square footage, but also can appeal to a larger demographic,” Mickey said. 

Consider adding an island bench to increase useable space and bring people to a central point, as well as utilising over-counter cabinets and countertops with raised eating areas to declutter the area.  

For a quick and easy kitchen facelift, swap outdated cabinet doors and fixings with new versions. If you are artistically inclined, a fresh coat of paint or lacquer restores tired cabinet doors to their former glory for little cost aside from your time. The splashback is another relatively simple and cost-effective kitchen reno that can make a huge difference to the look and feel of the room.  

“Removing and replacing your back splash can change the whole way you look at your kitchen; light and airy or classic contemporary. Simply changing the colour, type, pattern or style can really make a difference,” Mickey said. 

  1. Lighting  

The way a room is lit can have a dramatic impact on the overall feel, so look closely at where the lights are and how you can better enhance the features of the room to make it more welcoming as well as functional. For example, under cabinet lighting in the kitchen offers ambiance, plenty of light for cooking and a lovely highlight for key components such as the splashback or stone benchtops.  

In other rooms, a lightshade that complements the overall feel can work wonders in bringing it all together, as can some well-placed downlights or free-standing lamps. 

  1. Flooring  

Now that you have looked up at the lighting – don’t forget to look down too! Flooring holds a great deal of weight when it comes to resale value as well as liveability, so you should consider both the practical as well as aesthetic properties of what is underfoot.  

“Depending on your lifestyle, you might want something more durable, softer on the feet, scratch proof or easy clean. By updating and, where possible, connecting rooms with the flooring, you make the house feel more inviting,” Mickey said. 

  1. For sellers – keep it mainstream  

If you are renovating for you and your family, you have an open license to make the house exactly as you like it. However, for those looking to sell, Sebastian and Mickey’s advice is to keep the design neutral. “If you’re planning on renovating with the intent to sell, a more mainstream design is always best. Do not get too personal or particular with the design, because then you are narrowing your market,” Sebastian said. 

  1. And lastly – be brave.  

“Don’t be afraid to build the home of your dreams, yes there are lots of horror stories out there, but do your homework and stories are all they will be,” Mickey said. 

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